Naomi Novik
Uprooted Cover



I want Naomi Novik's Uprooted to win the Hugo Award for best novel this year. No matter how I look at it, it's easily the best nominee in the group. It already won the Nebula and without a doubt Uprooted deserves to win the award.

In a quiet village in the valley, Agnieszka grows up with her family. Hanging ominously over everything they have is the corrupted Wood, a thing more ominous and alive than any normal forest. It's touch corrupts, changes, and makes monsters of animals and people. Only the Dragon, the silent and cold wizard who benevolently rules the valley, protects the people and leads them to hold back the growth of Wood. Every 10 years the Dragon takes a young woman from among the villagers, a girl born in a certain season and of a certain age, and Agnieszka is sure that it will be her beautiful friend Kasia, as is everyone. When the selection comes, however, and the selection is not Kasia, Agnieszka will find herself thrust into events and a world that she never knew existed. And that world will depend upon her to save it.

I don't know quite what I expected before starting Uprooted, and for a short time I wondered if what I was reading a rewritten fairy tale (based on the cover art) or a young adult novel (because: female protagonist at the cusp of womanhood). Boy, was I wrong. Uprooted is neither YA nor a retold fairy tale, although it resonates with echoes of Polish/Russian folklore, but an original story told from a fresh perspective with color, vibrancy and life. Each page drips with luscious metaphors, popping from the page to bring Agnieszka's world to life.

While there is both swords and sorcery here, and indeed could probably qualify as belonging within the subgenre, the focus remains on characters and relationship dynamics as they interplay with a magic that never quite gets pulled from behind the curtain. A sense of wonder permeates the story, and Novik carefully tells her story in a series of reveals that keeps the reader anticipating how the ante will be upped next, and this extends even to the villain. While Novik makes it clear early on that the antagonist in this tale will be the Wood, the nature of the Wood is kept mysterious until Uprooted's very last twist, providing a satisfying "Ah ha!" moment that capstones Agnieszka's quest.

The only wart on Novik's story, for me, lies in [SPOILER ALERT] Agnieszka's relationship with the Dragon. Many decades older than her, Novik places them in a sudden sexual relationship, including a culminating scene that had me skipping pages. It seemed odd to build this story of female empowerment, and then to have her come running to the much older male figure and throwing herself upon him. Not only was it unnecessary for the story, but I think in many respects it would have been more interesting to write a story where he was the grandfather or father figure to her, a person who led her into her magical powers without having to sleep together in a lurid and overly descriptive scene.